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Hamburg science award: 40,000 euro for pioneering research in theoretical physics

Chris H. Greene solves the puzzle of Rydberg molecules and opens the way to their experimental realization.

This year‘s “Hamburg Prize for Theoretical Physics”, which is jointly awarded by the  Joachim Herz Stiftung and CUI, will be given to Prof. Dr. Chris H. Greene, Distinguished Professor of Physics at Purdue University, West Lafayette, USA.

Chris Greene’s works provide an understanding of Rydberg molecules and eventually led to their experimental discovery. These molecules are as large as viruses, but are made up of only two atoms. On the one hand they are rather unstable, on the other hand, however, they can be manipulated very easily. Research teams all over the world try to generate and manipulate such molecules in order to study the change of chemical and physical properties of the original matter.  Put in simple words: Our water, H20, could theoretically exist not only in its ‘normal’ form as a liquid or as ice.  In the special binding form of Rydberg molecules ice would be extremely airy and gigantic – a conventional scoop of ice-cream could be as large as a soccer stadium.

Already in 2000 Chris Greene developed the theory of an unusual binding mechanism in ultracold quantum gases of high density and predicted the existence of such Rydberg molecules. Guided by his calculations, a group of experimental physicists in Stuttgart could synthesize two rubidium atoms into such a gigantic molecule for the first time in 2008. The research on this new class of molecules enables completely new insights into the dynamics of atomic bonds in chemical compounds.

The “Hamburg Prize for Theoretical Physics” is connected with a perspective research and teaching stay at Universität Hamburg. “Chris Greene’s studies are pioneering for theoretical physics – among others in the field of ultracold atom and electron collisions or on the process of molecule binding in an astrophysical context. We are very much looking forward to his visit at CUI,” says Prof. Dr. Klaus Sengstock, spokesperson of the jury and of CUI.

The prize is worth 40,000 euro. It was established in 2010 by the Landesexzellenzcluster “Frontiers in Quantum Photon Science”, which was funded by the Joachim Herz Stiftung, and it is now continued by CUI. The prize will be awarded during the annual CUI-Colloquium on the Science Campus Bahrenfeld on November 14.